An All-Brahms Program with Andris Nelsons and the BSO
Saturday, November 27, 2021
The Boston Symphony's Music Director leads the orchestra through the rustic serenity of the German composer's Serenade No. 2, as well as his roiling and triumphant First Symphony.
Andris Nelsons, conductor
BRAHMS Serenade No. 2
BRAHMS Symphony No. 1
This concert is no longer available on demand.
Hear Andris Nelsons preview the concert and describe his experiences of Thanksgiving in America with the audio player above.
Brian McCreath Let's talk about Brahms and the program for Thanksgiving weekend, here in the U.S., and tell me about how you decided upon the Second Serenade and the First Symphony for that particular weekend. What is it about these two pieces that makes that program work well on that weekend?
Andris Nelsons Yes, I mean, I think for one reason, we want to celebrate Thanksgiving and we want to have a good nice evening and day. And I mean, we think about Brahms's Second Serenade, of course, we have this picture of almost Mozart-like light, dance-y, singing mood. And it's a very youthful Brahms, probably by that time with no beard, yet, so because it's so interesting how his music developed.
So starting with this joyful Serenade and then the First Symphony, which we know, I mean, he was 43 years old. So it took a long time for him to finally write the symphony because, of course, in [the] footsteps of Beethoven and Schumann, Schubert was, at the time, and, you know, and, of course, Wagner, which was on the wrong side of the Brahms beliefs, he writes this masterpiece in the age of 43, which is, you can see the influence of Beethoven.
But in the meantime, you also see the great mastery of building this dramaturgy and also of the sound world. And also his very great ability to have the big dramatic moments like the timpanist with the beginning and then having a, you know, for example, second movement with the violin solo, which is a very intimate, lyric. So it's absolutely a masterpiece. But it's always a great pleasure, and I think it's great satisfaction to hear his music. And I think in this Thanksgiving time, really, I think, yeah, we wanted to play something which is, you know, wonderful and something which is uplifting, because also, you know, we believe that music is a certain source of inspiration and of comfort. And I think everyone who comes to concerts will have a wonderful feeling, and we want to invite everyone and just to enjoy the great masterworks of Brahms.
Brian McCreath The Serenade, as you mentioned, it sort of harkens back to Mozart and outdoor music, light dance-y, sort of. When you conduct the Second Serenade by Brahms, does it feel like a collection of individual, delightful pieces? Or is there any way that they're all connected into one thing? We think of that with symphonies. You know, we think of a symphony, especially with the First Symphony by Brahms. That's definitely something that happens over four movements, one sort of narrative. Is that the case with the Serenade as well?
Andris Nelsons Well, obviously, there are 20 years in between both compositions. I think that one of the greatest [examples of] Brahms's genius, of course, is the form, the structure, and dramaturgy. When we look, let's say, into the symphonies, or Requiem, or concertos, I think that despite that the serenade, or both serenades, but the Second Serenade has, of course, the influence of serenades like Mozart's times, that still, having these five moments, you feel that each moment is predicting the next one, so there is a continuation and feeling of continuation. I think it's not a feeling of absolutely not-connected, five pieces of music or dance. I think they have a contrast, of course, and also when you listen to that, I find you feel that there is already the structure. It's not just random, let's say, like a suite, for example. It's interesting to think that, very often, the teachers have told, "Look, you know, Brahms was only 43 when he wrote the symphony, so you really can start, should start to conduct Brahms late, and you'll understand it much better." And I think there is absolute truth in that, of course, the more you live, of course, the more you realize. And with Brahms, also, that we know, reading his life journey, that he needed time. And then came out these masterpieces.
Because my birthday is this week, 43, so now I can say, well, I'm old enough to conduct Brahms's First Symphony, because [laughs] So I'm looking forward, and I'm looking forward to find[ing] another path. Because, as it is, I think the destination is clear, mostly. But the path you can take, I think Brahms offers you, you can, you take a path there, it might be more bumpy, OK. Or you take something, another path. So it's let's if I take another path.
Brian McCreath I love that perspective. I love that way of looking at it. It's kind of like driving around Boston. You can get to one place by 20 different ways, but the experience is going to be very different according to those ways. But that's cool.
So, you've been with the BSO for a number of years now, and on a few occasions, at least you've been here at Thanksgiving. Was Thanksgiving something that you experienced before coming here? I mean, you were working in the City of Birmingham before the BSO, and of course, you were in Germany and Latvia. Was Thanksgiving a brand new thing for you when you came to Boston?
Andris Nelsons Well, except last year, all Thanksgiving, I've always been in Boston, yeah. And we have celebrated with [former BSO President and CEO] Mark Volpe's house, and we once, he even had Seiji [Ozawa, former BSO Music Director], [composer and Boston Pops Conductor Laureate] John Williams, and me with Mark and his family. There's one year there. And of course, it's very new and very special here. And I enjoy the food, enjoy the gathering. And I think that most importantly, it is another reason to give thanks. And it's another reason to think about the compassion and about, you know, human values. And I think that each year reminds us that, you know, think about each other.
So that was not so much, of course, in Soviet Union, nothing what was here was possible there. And I think somewhere after independence, the tradition of Thanksgiving came more as something from America, which some people did celebrate as well. And certainly at school, I remember, we were studying, yeah, a lot about pumpkins [laughs]. I remember, I'm actually in a school, there is all the pumpkins and, you know, with the eyes. And then so I remember also in Latvia, in a certain way that this tradition is...
Brian McCreath So you had a little taste of it. But then you came here to Boston and you got the real thing.
Andris Nelsons The real thing, yes.
Brian McCreath That's great, that's really great. Well, I'm glad you're here. I didn't realize it had been every year, except for maybe last year that you were here in Boston for Thanksgiving. That's tremendous. That's just great.
Andris Nelsons So basically for my birthday and for Thanksgiving, I'm always in Boston. That's nice, yeah.
Brian McCreath Well, we couldn't be happier about that. That's great. Andris Nelsons, thanks a lot for spending a little time today. I appreciate it.
Andris Nelsons Oh, great pleasure. Thank you. Thank you.